MANILA, Philippines ? For a certain generation of Filipinos, the ?80s will be remembered for two epochal events: The Edsa People Power Revolt and the release of Michael Jackson?s ?Thriller? album.
Actually, ?Thriller? came first, one year before the assassination of Benigno ?Ninoy? Aquino Jr. Filipinos marked time in the interim between the Aquino assassination and the Edsa revolt by watching an endless procession of young kids wearing one glove doing the ?moonwalk (a dance step)? on noontime television to the inexorable beat of ?Billie Jean? and ?Beat It.?
Between Jackson himself doing the zombie dance in the ?Thriller? video on the fledgling MTV, and his host of imitators on ?That?s Entertainment,? there was no escaping Michael Jackson?s influence.
I don?t own any Michael Jackson records.
I never felt the need to, considering how ubiquitous and omnipresent the man?s music has been throughout most of my life.
(Amazing, considering that Jackson was three years younger than me when he died on June 25.)
When I was in high school, no dance party was complete without at least a couple of Jackson 5 records. ?ABC,? ?The Love You Save,? ?I?ll Be There.?
(Note for readers born after 1975: Yes, we actually danced to records, with each other, at each other?s houses.)
At Christmastime, alternating with the inescapable ?Here We Come A-Caroling? by Ray Conniff and the Ray Conniff Singers, countless department store PA systems (there were no malls then) played the infinitely more bearable ?The Jackson 5 Christmas Album.? That?s a prepubescent Michael and his brothers singing ?Santa Claus Is Coming To Town,? ?Give Love on Christmas Day? and ?I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.?
One glove era
Away from his brothers, Michael Jackson, the child prodigy, continued to be a presence on local radio with ?Ben,? ?Got To Be There? and his cheeky remake of the ?50s chestnut ?Rockin? Robin.?
During the disco era, The Jackson 5 made the transition to adulthood and sexual maturity by morphing into ?The Jacksons,? venturing into sweaty funk territory with Michael at the helm as lead songwriter.
But even though American pop is as mother?s milk to Filipino audiences, nothing prepared us for the solo emergence of the musically and sexually mature Michael Jackson with 1979?s ?Off the Wall? and its runaway hit single, ?Don?t Stop ?Til You Get Enough??a looming influence on any Filipino entertainer since who has tried to make a career out of singing and dancing ?black.?
Just how influential he continues to be in local pop music is evident in the following equations:
Gary Valenciano minus Michael Jackson equals Janno Gibbs.
Billy Crawford minus Michael Jackson equals Sam Milby.
Aga Muhlach minus Michael Jackson equals Aga Muhlach.
(Seriously, Aga Muhlach?s poppin? and lockin? interpretation of Michael Jackson?s dance moves in the 1984 movie ?Bagets? has scarred many a young mind, and must surely be counted as one of the ?Top 100 moments in Philippine cinema, along with Nora crying ?Walang himala [There is no miracle]!? and Cherie Gil snarling ?Second-rate, trying-hard copycat!? at Sharon Cuneta.)
Even dyed-in-the-wool rockist who bought Bruce Springsteen?s ?Born in the USA? rather than ?Thriller,? and music geeks who declared Prince the better all-around R&B musician had to bow before the sheer pop genius of ?Billie Jean? and the massive pop monolith that was ?Thriller.?
King of pop
Jackson was indeed the ?King of Pop,? just as Elvis had been ?the King.?
Sadly, after ?Thriller,? Jackson?s celebrity began to eclipse his art. His participation in ?We Are The World,? though helping focus world attention on the plight of the starving multitudes in Africa, was also seen as one more example of pop star sanctimoniousness.
?Bad,? his follow-up album, was by no means so, but by the time of its release, the public was less interested in his music than in the increasingly bizarre lifestyle that he began to lead, like some pop Citizen Kane.
It was reported that he slept in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber to retard the aging process. Although that was later revealed to be a hoax, Jackson clearly identified with Peter Pan, the boy who never grew up, even naming his Xanadu, ?Neverland.?
But to the public, he began to be known as ?Wacko Jacko.?
A rhinoplasty to repair a broken nose led to another, and another, until finally his proboscis resembled nothing so much as Lon Chaney?s in ?The Phantom of the Opera.?
Paler and paler
As his complexion grew paler and paler, stand-up comics began to joke that Jackson was having himself surgically transformed into a white man. He was said to have bought the bones of the Elephant Man (which he later denied).
Joseph Merrick, an Englishman who died in 1890, was known as the Elephant Man because of his physical appearance caused by a congenital defect.
Then in a stunning business coup, he bought the publishing rights to the Beatles catalogue?suggesting that he wasn?t nearly that crazy.
Even more disturbing than stories about his shenanigans with Bubbles, the chimpanzee, were the stories about the procession of young male house guests at the Neverland Ranch (Jackson?s last known residence in Santa Barbara, California).
He was said to be suffering from anorexia, and addicted to painkillers. An irate Ayatollah pointed to him as ?that sodomite black boy??a symbol of America?s degeneracy. Even as accusations of pedophilia became public, Jackson kept the public guessing by marrying Lisa Marie Presley, the daughter of his predecessor on the pop throne, divorcing her two years later, marrying again and fathering two children. A third child was born as the result of artificial insemination from a surrogate mother and Jackson?s own sperm cells.
Remember the time
Thankfully, the tabloid exploits that comprised much of Jackson?s later years seems to have been largely lost on most Filipinos, jaded consumers of Hollywood celebrity gossip that we are.
Pop memory has its quirks. When all is weighed in the balance?when we see an old trouper like Gary V or a slightly younger one like Billy Crawford drop some moves?it is the lithe young dancer of those interregnum years in the 1980s that we will remember.
And come next Christmas, the malls will once again be filled with the sound of Michael and his brothers singing ?Santa Claus is Coming to Town.?